The last time SBS chatted with Brian Varela in January 2020, he was enjoying his thriving musical theater career, while also running HOTBOX Fitness and Training, including “Sweatbox,” his own CrossHIIT creation, and more.
Two years later, the Los Angeles-born, Fort Lauderdale, FL, resident has gone on quite a journey. Throughout lockdown, the triple threat performer and fitness trainer took HOTBOX on the road (literally), creating HOTBOX To-Go, a mobile gym dedicated to keeping clients in shape–and safe.
The second iteration of HOTBOX has since closed its doors, and now, Varela has made his way back to a home gym, CrossFit SoFlow, to support his next evolution. Below, the innovative and energetic trainer shares how taking on the task of this transition informs how he sees business, fitness and his own commitments now.
SBS: What was your inspiration and mission for starting your company, HOTBOX Fitness To-Go, during Covid?
Brian Varela: HOTBOX was originally my garage gym in my parents home in Fort Lauderdale. It was fully stocked with equipment you would normally find in a CrossFit gym: dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, plates, pull up rig, squat stand, TRX, assault bike and treadmill. Before the pandemic I would bring clients into my home for one-on-one training.
During the early part of 2020, I couldn’t train clients at my home because my family was at a higher risk of infection. So I decided I would take my gym to them! And that’s how HOTBOX Fitness To-Go was born.
I bought a pick-up truck and a 7-by-12-foot trailer. I packed all of my equipment into it, and I began making house calls for my personal clients. That included outdoor training, masks, being socially distanced, and sanitation, so each client could continue to prioritize their health during this crisis.
In January of 2021, I expanded into group fitness training in a parking lot of Wilton Manors, where eight to 10 students could train together, but continue to remain outdoors and socially distant.
I knew I needed a way to continue working during these tough times. I figured, as long as we remain outdoors and socially-distanced, we could continue training. Most gyms were closed, and a lot of my clients sought group fitness options that were still safe to participate in. My mission was to create the safest and most effective training solution for the current situation, and to make health and wellness the top priority in our community.
SBS: What were the happy surprises and challenges with your to-go option?
BV: Being a mobile company in Florida, the weather was always a surprise! From blistering heat, to sudden rain showers, every day was a challenge to provide the best outdoor fitness experience possible. Also, being an outdoor facility, constantly creating the elevated customer experience, meant I had to get creative, as I did not have the amenities like other established boutique gyms in town. But if there’s a will, there’s a way.
SBS: What led you to the decision to close the business?
BV: Before HOTBOX Fitness To-Go started, I realized that, ultimately, HOTBOX was not a permanent business solution. Knowing this, I was able to put my all into this business, and I felt content when deciding the business’s time had to come to a close. My model was very labor-intensive, having to set up a fully functional training facility each and every morning and night, for close to 365 days straight. I couldn’t sustain more strain on my body by myself.
SBS: Where are you currently working, and what are your offerings?
BV: I currently work at a fabulous facility in Oakland Park, FL, named CrossFit SoFlow. I coach between eight to 10 CrossFit classes a week, as well as train clients one-on-one. I also offer LGBTQ+ community workouts quarterly as part of my work with OUT-FIT South Florida, (@out.fit.southflorida) and as a Lululemon ambassador.
SBS: How has having your own business impacted you as a person, as well as a fitness practitioner?
BV: It has completely changed my outlook on life. Having to be responsible for the success of any venture requires 100% dedication. Now that I’ve been on the other side of operating a business, I carry myself in my new job like I own the place. When someone takes my class, I am their first impression. I am CrossFit SoFlow: I know how it feels to be 100% of a brand. So I respect my job as if it were my own product. The same can be said on how I conduct myself outside of the gym. I am 100% of my decisions, my actions, my words, and my commitments.
SBS: How has your teaching or approach changed?
BV: My teaching has actually improved. By owning a business, you can never be complacent. I sought my CrossFit level 2 Trainer Certification in hopes of becoming a better educator and coach.
SBS:What will you take with you from your time as a business owner into your future? What's next for you?
BV: I’ve learned that owning a business takes a village. I tried to do many aspects of HOTBOX alone, and it quickly became apparent that I needed support. My next venture will hopefully be a brick-and-mortar gym either in sunny Fort Lauderdale, or wherever my new home is!
The best, zaniest part of being Brian: The best and zaniest part about me is that I love people, and I love making new friends. I have the privilege to connect with tons of people through my time as a performer, a fitness instructor, and just as a human! All these connections make for a thrilling life.
Brian’s SBS Mantra: Be Fearless is closely tied to my personal mantra, which is Be Brave. In this world, nothing is accomplished by staying comfortable. We constantly have to evolve and take risks. I always aim to be brave and make choices. Don’t live in fear!
Brian’s South Florida Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: Myapapaya Kitchen + Juiceery
Splurge Restaurant: Sparrow (rooftop of Dalmar)
Fun Activity: Paddle-boarding
Claiming Activity: Yoga or stretching
Fitness Studio: CrossFit SoFlow, Cycleward Studio
Athleticwear: lululemon, NOBULL
Athletic Shoes: NOBULL
Online Resources: RP Diet Coach app (for nutrition), ROMWOD (for guided stretch and mobility)